After three weeks of NFL football all the preconceptions from the 2008 season have been washed away and replaced by new beliefs. Some of these new revelations are not that ludicrous, for instance the Jets look like they will actually be a good team this season and may challenge the New England Patriots for AFC East supremacy. Most of these developments are just trends that will fade in the next couple of weeks though. Five of those most bizarre trends are listed below.
The Denver Broncos have the best defense in the NFL
The Denver Broncos defense currently allows the fewest yards per game at just 214.7. They give up just 136.3 yards per game through the air and 78.3 yards per game on the ground. They also allow an astonishingly stingy 5.3 points per game. The closest comparable scoring defense is the New York Jets which seems just as unbelievable with just 11 points per game allowed. The first realistic scoring defense on the list belongs to the Indianapolis Colts at 15 points allowed per game.
Why have the Broncos been so dominant? Why do I not believe that new coach Josh McDaniels will be able to keep up this incredible pace? Well, to begin with the Broncos allowed the third most points last season at 28 per game and the fourth most yards at 374.6 per game. The defensive roster has not changed drastically and Josh McDaniels was an offensive coordinator, not a defensive coordinator.
The only reason the Broncos have such impressive numbers is that they have played the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns, and the Oakland Raiders. The Browns are a game away from handing the reins of the offense over to receiver and special team specialist Josh Cribbs and the Raiders are sputtering with JaMarcus Russell and his NFL-worst 39.8 quarterback rating. This next stretch of games against the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, and San Diego Chargers will return the Broncos to the bottom of the defensive standings where they belong.
Cedric Benson is third in the NFL in rushing yards
I am from Chicago, so I have a vivid memory of the 5-11, 225 pound bruiser trying to tap dance his way between the tackles. He is somehow averaging 4.4 yards per carry and has amassed 293 yards in 2009 as a Cincinnati Bengal. He is not in the class of Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, but he is leading the next group of running backs who are approaching 300 yards after three games.
Benson never established himself as the feature back with the Bears, but reached career highs in careers (214) and yards (747) in just 12 games with the Bengals in 2008. This season he has no competition from the running back depth chart and is the lone offensive bright spot for a team that suddenly has a problem at quarterback despite having Carson Palmer back healthy. Eventually teams are going to realize that they need to stop worrying about the Palmer-Ochocinco connection that has been broken since 2007. Then they will start bearing down on Benson and his numbers will suffer, knocking him out of the top ten rushing list.
Philip Rivers is averaging 330.3 yards per touchdown pass
The San Diego Chargers are a high octane offense that is averaging 26.7 points a game and 315 passing yards a game (out of 382 total yards per game). Despite those incredible numbers, Rivers only has three touchdown passes. To put this in perspective, the only team that averages more passing yards a game is the Indianapolis Colts and their quarterback (Peyton Manning) has seven touchdown passes.
Rivers is bound to account for more of the scoring very soon, especially with the continued decline of LT. The Chargers running game is pretty non-existent right now, which means that Rivers and his collection of targets are the only real thing moving the ball right. That means just because of the sheer number of yards and percentage of plays that are passing plays Rivers must accumulate more touchdown passes.
One of the underlying factors accounting for the lack of touchdowns for the team as a whole right now is that Rivers is only completing 58.8 percent of his throws. This means that the kicking game is picking up most of the points after a stuffed run or a couple of incompletions. Rivers is sure to bring that percentage closer to his career average, around 62.1 percent and then his touchdown throws will increase and propel him to the Pro Bowl once again.
The Dallas Cowboys receivers are averaging 20-plus yards a catch
There are two ways to look at the Cowboys passing game. One is to see those numbers per catch and be extremely impressed. The other is to then check how many receptions the two starting receivers have and wonder what Romo is doing. Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams each have just eight catches. Most of Tony Romo’s passes have been caught by Jason Witten. Witten, his favorite tight end, has caught 19 passes with a decent yards average per reception for a tight end at 9.5 YPC.
These receivers need to become a greater part of the offense for the Dallas Cowboys to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot in the NFC. They cannot just be big play guys that show up on Sportscenter highlights. This is the 21st century not the 1970s. The passing game is the key to most teams’ offenses. Crayton and Williams are sure to get the ball more often and see that yard per catch average plummet. If these numbers remain I expect two things. First, Dallas will finish last in the NFC East. Second, there will be another revolt in the locker room as Crayton and Williams complain they are seeing the ball just four or five times a game despite being starting receivers.
The Panthers have continued to stick with Jake Delhomme
The Carolina Panthers were 12-4 last season. This season they are 0-3 with little optimism to go around. The defense is terrible allowing 362 yards and 29 points a game. Last season the defense was much better and worked with the emphasis on running the ball. This season the defense cannot stop the run and needs quick scores to get back into the game before trying to slow it down. Delhomme is simply not getting the job done. He has seven picks in three games and just two touchdown passes. He is completing just 59.3 percent of his passes for a paltry 6.6 yards per attempt.
Delhomme is perhaps best suited to be a game manager, but this team needs a dynamic play maker to work with Steve Smith and make another receiver on the roster emerge as a threat. The incredible Smith is averaging a mere 12.7 yards per catch because Delhomme cannot give the defense a reason to cover another target on the field. I think that Delhomme has two more bad games before coach John Fox begrudgingly moves down the depth chart. It seems that by the end of the season A.J. Feeley will be the starting quarterback and the Panthers will join the hunt for a player that can succeed behind center in the new NFL.